Anabolic – androgenic steroids (AAS) were originally developed to promote growth of skeletal muscle. AAS abuse is commonly associated with bodybuilders, weightlifters, and other athletes. The issue of AAS toxicity is not yet completely understood since the adverse effects outline a varied scenario with side effects reported affecting many organs and systems in humans. The true incidence of AAS related medical problems is not known, due to several drawbacks in human studies. The entity of side effects depends on the sex, the dose, the duration of treatment, whether they are taken during exercise training or under sedentary conditions, and the susceptibility of the individuals themselves to androgen exposure partly depending on genetic factors. Both the acute and the chronic effects can lead to toxicity, but generally the serious and even fatal effects depend on the time and the duration of AAS administration. A limitation of human studies is represented by the fact that information about the intake of steroids are, generally, self reported and it is hardly possible to assess the exact dosage. AAS are often used in combination with other dugs or substances, so it is difficult to separate their toxic effects from those caused by the other drugs abused. Hence experimental studies conducted on animal models are mandatory to investigate the mechanisms underlying to AAS toxicity and the organ alterations due to these substances. Finally, clinicians should be aware of the complex and varied pattern of toxicity so as to be able to perform correct diagnoses and treatments.
Keywords: Abuse, anabolic androgenic steroids, mechanisms, side effects, toxicity, AAS, skeletal muscle, AAS toxicity, dosage, organ alterations, genetic factors